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July 18, 2017

Absence of Pride events leaves void in LGBT community

Star News
By Staff
Years have passed since Wilmington Pride invited locals to celebrate the LGBT community. Several groups hope to bring it back.

WILMINGTON -- For nearly a decade, the Port City has gone without a major show of Pride in June, the month designated to celebrate the LGBT community.

The last consistent event, Wilmington Pride week, launched back in 2005 and ran the spectrum of events from a family picnic to a drag show to an awards ceremony honoring local advocacy in Wilmington. 

Bo Dean, founder of Out Wilmington which helped create Wilmington Pride week, said the first year was “so wonderful” and drew upwards of 500 people.

But the organizers who took it on after Dean and company stepped aside grew the event at an unsustainable rate beyond the reach of their financial means, he said. By 2009, following a large event that brought in legendary drag performer RuPaul, the annual Pride week had collapsed.

Save for a 2012 equality parade and smaller organizational events for members, Pride months since then have come and gone in Wilmington without any major events -- a deficiency several local lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual groups believe it’s time to change.

After relocating four years ago from San Francisco to Wilmington, partners Jeff Mills and Ed Adams noticed the hole left by Wilmington Pride and gathered groups like Cape Fear Equality and PFLAG of Wilmington to explore the possibility of generating movement to resume the event, but it never gained traction.

“When new people come to the region, it is a noticeable lack,” Mills said.

In the years since their effort, PFLAG president Aleeze Arthur said the absence of visible Pride events has left a void.

“I definitely feel Wilmington needs something like this,” she said. “It is important for the youth especially to see that the city cares about LGBT community... It is not just about children coming out to their parents, but families feeling safe to come out to their communities that they have a gay child.”

The city hasn’t been without intermittent displays of Pride, though groups differ on what constitutes a Pride event. Mills said he sees the inclusion of LGBT imagery and groups in events like January’s Women’s March and HB2 protests as shows of Pride, but Arthur sees them as separate because Pride is about a more celebratory and supportive motivation.

The rumblings to resume a full-fledged Pride event -- even beyond the month of June -- never completely died. Lorraine Barnes, current chair of Cape Fear Equality, said in addition to the typical challenges of event planning like financing and permitting, the gay community has had to shed decades of apprehension and societal stigmas that deterred some from wanting to plan public celebrations.

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But with the last few years of progress, including the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, she said the community has the momentum, it just needs the focus.

“There hasn’t been a strong enough force and people have been scattered,” she said. “It hasn’t been the lack of desire or want. But this can’t be done alone.”

For the record, Barnes is ready to be that force even if, as she puts it, she has to stand on the corner waving a Pride flag by herself. But it doesn’t seem like that will be necessary.

In recent weeks, the collective of organizations, which also includes SAGE of Wilmington and the Frank Harr Foundation, have reconvened to plan a big event eyed for September. But Barnes remained tight-lipped about the specifics, only noting people should stay tuned for something exciting.

Adams, who is Barnes’ Cape Fear Equality co-chair, said the reemergence of a Pride event could also help facilitate advancement in other areas. At this year’s Azalea Festival, Cape Fear Equality operated the Gayzalea tent where volunteers asked the community what they want to see done for the local LGBT residents.

The No. 1 request was to bring back a resource center, which operated during the days of Wilmington Pride. It is something Adams said remains high on everyone’s agenda.

“The more we see each other in the streets, planning something together as a community where everyone can come and feel comfortable, the more we can grow from that,” he said.

Dean said he absolutely feels a sustainable Pride event can be mounted again, despite the short life of Wilmington Pride week. It just needs the right people to carry the proverbial rainbow flag.

“I really believe that energy can and will come back again,” he said.

Read the original article online here.

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